ANAHOLA — Valentine Ako has attended Koolau Hui‘ia Protestant Church since 1953. In the past six decades, through thick and thin, he’s stayed with it.
“I watched as we grew and also lost members,” he said.
Ako recognizes that “no church is perfect,” including this one. But Sunday, as members, families and friends gathered to celebrate the church’s 150th anniversary, Ako was smiling as he joined a luau after the service. He liked what he saw and what he heard.
He believes the church, led by Kahu Rennie Mau, is shining bright. It’s providing parishioners with what they need to grow together as ohana, and to understand and share God’s word.
“The pastor needs to share spiritual meat,” Ako said, adding that Mau is doing exactly that.
About 150 people attended the afternoon service of the church at the base of Kalalea Mountain with sweeping views of Anahola Valley. There was song, hugs, praying over children, praise and lots of laughter as they celebrated 150 years since the day, on Feb. 23, 1865, when the Koolau Hui‘ia Protestant Church of Anahola separated from the mother church of Waioli Hui‘ia.
The first sanctuary had an earthen dirt floor. Many came to the services wearing boots and sombreros after traveling many miles through rain and on rough, dirt roads on horse-driven wagons to get there. At least 85 percent of the people in Anahola belonged to the church.
Over the decades, it has steadily served as a refuge and sanctuary during storms. It has provided shelter and food regardless of religious faiths. It has filled physical and spiritual needs, Mau said.
Today, it blends a liturgy that is both traditional and contemporary. It unites generations of young families, seniors and singles. Services include prayers and songs in Hawaiian.
“There is so much rich history in this church,” Mau said. “It’s a small church but it’s made ripples and it’s made waves far beyond this place. Things start here in Anahola.”
Sunday, the wooden pews in the small sanctuary and chairs outside were packed with regular attendees and guests who wanted to be part of the occasion. The bell, whose tower was renovated in a recent church restoration, rang again.
It was a wonderful day, Mau said.
“It’s the simplicity, and just seeing families all together today was real special to me,” he said.
Kalei Arinaga, who outlined the church’s history during the service, said her great-great-grandparents, great-grandparents and grandparents all attended Koolau Hui‘ia Protestant Church. It’s been her home church since she was born.
She loves the warmth of the people and deep connections they have to the area and to each other.
“I like it because we practice our traditional beliefs and try to tie them in to where we are today,” Arinaga said.
Mau said a sense of shared history has helped the church thrive. Families come together in love and hope and a desire to help others while remembering the past and looking to the future. Its foundation rests with its Native Hawaiian heritage.
“We can talk about sovereignty, but we’ve got to do it with reconciliation and forgiveness and restoration,” he said.
Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura attended the service and presented the church with a certificate to mark its 150 years in Anahola. Yukimura praised the church’s impact on the island.
“That is such an incredible legacy and history, and I know you will build on it,” she said.